It’s hard to imagine that an activity as simple as social networking can cause problems on the job. The popularity of social networking sites has added a new level of job-related risk factors. The fine line between being sociable and recognizing the chance that your employer or potential employer can access your personal thoughts, musings and moments of wild frivolity raises the question: Do social networking sites and careers mix?
Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are three of the most utilized and most powerful social networking sites currently available. Given their staggering number of users, it’s inevitable that many of your co-workers will have at least one account on these sites. Facebook alone states that it has more than 350 million users, 50 percent of whom log in every day.
Can this social networking craze pose a danger to your job? Most definitely.
Consider the purpose behind social networking sites. Often, they are used to brag about accomplishments, impress friends, or let off steam. Did you have a bad day at work? At the time, it probably seemed like a great idea to go on a social networking site and lament to your friends and family about your evil supervisor. What about revealing confidential information? After all, they are your friends, right? Are the consequences of posting negative or potentially damaging information worth the risk of losing your job?
What about professional sites such as LinkedIn? Recruiters are finding that some professionals bring about as much professionalism to LinkedIn as they do to their Facebook page. So while sites such as LinkedIn should provide a safer environment for putting your best foot forward, caution should still be exercised.
Front-line workers are not the only employees who need to exercise caution when using social networking sites. Recruiters using the networking sites as a tool to assist with reference checking may find themselves in legal trouble if a potential applicant cries discrimination. For example, job applicants have claimed that they were not selected for interviews once the recruiter discovered that they were African-American from the picture posted on their Facebook page. While it may be difficult to prove that bias occurred, the company’s reputation and legal fees may not be worth the effort.
Lawyers often caution recruiters, employers and potential employers on the risks of playing Internet cop. However, the practice is still widely used by employers to monitor their staff’s activities or to research potential job candidates. Many employers believe that the information you post on your Web site is a true indication of the type of person that you are.
How can the impact of social networking sites on your company or career be mitigated? The ultimate decision on the content of a social networking page rests squarely on the shoulders of user. The right to brag, or post comments regardless of their inappropriateness is well within your rights, at least for now. It is important to note, however, that regardless of your right to privacy, employers may still be monitoring your site.